Two Perspectives on Liverpool – Barcelona and the view from a disappointed but proud Ajax supporter.

Following on from a week of enthralling European semi-finals as highlighted in this week’s post (https://football-nerd.org/2019/05/10/football-nerd-weekly-ramblings-all-four-premier-league-clubs-find-a-way-to-stay-in-europe/), it was time to call on the extended Football Nerd family to get some opinions on the two epic Champions League games we all witnessed from supporters of some of the clubs involved.

First up, as we did after a spectacular European tie second leg turnaround at Anfield three years back, the like of which of course would never be repeated(!), (https://football-nerd.org/2016/04/20/two-perspectives-on-liverpool-v-borussia-dortmund-1442016/) Roger and Our Kid bring you two different perspectives on that match at Anfield on Tuesday evening:

Roger

The faithful gathered at Anfield in a dutiful mood. They had few realistic expectations that the Reds, shorn of two of the famous front three, could overturn the 3-0 deficit to Barcelona. Most thought that an inevitable Barca goal would finally kill the tie. But they were determined to do their best, and create the famous Anfield atmosphere.

After a slow start, as kick off approached, the noise was deafening as the rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” drowned out the naff UEFA anthem. And it fed off itself by a process of auto-catalysis. The more the atmosphere built, the more we believed and the more the atmosphere built.

The Reds went for Barcelona with a sustained high press, disturbing the famous tiki-taka style. They looked flustered. And then the early goal. First signs of real belief, but always tempered by the thought of that Barca goal. The rest of the first half was a nervy stalemate. LFC still pressing and when Barca broke out they fluffed their lines or were repulsed by the brooding, magnificent Alison. Suarez playing the pantomime villain, once loved by the Kop, now despised.

And in the second half, two goals from Gini. The Kop goes mad. Now the belief is for real. Unbearable tension. Unsung heroes, Fabinho and Matip, are magnificent, Milner is the consummate ‘old pro’ and Virgil imperious. Finally Trent fools everyone, including half the Kop, with his outrageous corner. Several thousand join Ben Woodburn in asking ‘What happened.’ Who cares? Liverpool scored, Scousers rule the world and we are on our way to Madrid.

The aftermath sees frantic arrangements.  Outrageous sums committed to a website for tickets, Spanish friend contacted for accommodation, and transport arranged via Paris.

The dream lives on.

Our Kid

It seemed rather fitting that after Krakow played a significant part in my epic journey to Kiev last year (https://football-nerd.org/2018/05/30/all-the-way-to-kiev-a-guest-piece-by-our-kid/), that I should find myself in the very same city for the second leg of the semi-final. 

 The first leg is one of the most frustrating matches I can remember.  At the final whistle I felt numb; I had just watched one of the best away performances that I’d ever seen by Liverpool and somehow we had lost 3-0.  With the benefit of hindsight, it was that performance however that laid the foundations for what happened last night. 

 Liverpool had got at Barcelona like few had before and that created a niggle of doubt.  Whilst you know in football that there is always a chance, stranger things have happened, but not many it has to be said; I couldn’t see Liverpool getting the goals needed without conceding. The one hope I had was at 3-0 last year headed to the Etihad it felt a long way from over.

 So to my evening, dinner had been organised early to ensure I could watch the match, but some dawdling from colleagues over dessert meant it was half time when I got back to the room and tuned into BT on the iPad.  I replied to my mate’s message with “it’s the hope that gets you!” at 1-0 still mission improbable if not impossible.

 What amazed me was the lack of response from Barca after Gini’s two quick goals, I don’t remember a clear Barca chance in the second half, although there was a portion of that time spent jumping on the bed screaming, apologies to residents of the Puro Hotel wanting an early night.

 There is no real way to understand it, but in sport, so often when it starts to unravel it’s hard to stop, many of my golf rounds testify to that; and so to Madrid and slightly less arduous journey I hope.

Secondly we managed to convince an understandably disappointed but nonetheless proud Erik to give us his thoughts on Ajax’s astonishing Champions League campaign. It is of course worth remembering that when the draw for the Round of 16 was made Erik and I agreed that Ajax would have been better off in the Europa League as they would have had a better chance of going deep in that competition. Just goes to show what we know!

Here are his reflections on an impressive campaign from a brilliant young side:

Erik

These days no lead seems large enough, although at least two goals were unnecessary from our point of view. The second goal our player got in the way of our goalkeeper and the third goal was just completely avoidable. Kicking the ball straight to the opposition in the last 20 seconds when you’ve already had to save chance after chance is asking for trouble. This is the most frustrating aspect. It’s one thing losing, but to give it away like this?

 So game management wasn’t the greatest from our perspective, but perhaps that’s where inexperience came in. It’s interesting I haven’t heard many people mention that. Not taking anything away from Tottenham though (I thought it interesting that everybody went on about Son, when it was Moura who stole the show). 

 Still there is much to be proud of. It’s got Ajax back on the European map and the level of support and admiration from non-Ajax supporters everywhere (Editor’s note: including, albeit slightly begrudgingly/ jealously this Feyenoorder!) has been heartwarming. For a club that only receives £10 million from TV money compared to the bottom Premier League club receiving £100 million to achieve this whilst dispatching two of Europe’s top sides (not to mention richest) is truly remarkable.

 I’d like to say let’s have a try again next year, but with some of the players inevitably leaving it’ll be difficult. Having said that, perhaps this year’s success may mean that some might stay after all (Tagliafico has already signed a new contract) and we may be able to attract some new players to fill the gaps left behind by Frenkie de Jong et al to keep at least the balance and the essence of the team. Interestingly, the Ajax shop site is down as there are so many people trying to buy merchandise and on Sports Direct their shirts are sold out. I want to buy one now as we’ve got much to be proud of. I’ll be wearing my old shirt for five-a-side tonight!

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